Michael Crabtree denies revenge game vs. Raiders in return with Ravens


Michael Crabtree denies revenge game vs. Raiders in return with Ravens

ALAMEDA – Michael Crabtree was as clutch as they come during three seasons with the Raiders, often Derek Carr’s go-to guy even with Amari Cooper in the pattern.

He was vital to the Raiders' rise in 2015 and 2016, with many signature moments to his credit. He caught the do-or-die 2-point conversion to beat New Orleans. He had the “slice of blue” touchdown catch against the Chargers. He had three touchdowns in Baltimore, including a fourth-quarter catch that turned tides there.

He won another dramatic contest in 2017 as well, securing a touchdown catch on an untimed down to beat Kansas City. That was a rare highlight in a season that went awry for the entire team, Crabtree included. His chain-snatching rematch with Aqib Talib late that year wasn’t a great look, and getting four targets and reduced snaps over the last two games suggested the end was near.

Former Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon reported on a CBS broadcast late in the year that team officials had informed him the wide receiver was taking himself out of games. Crabtree wasn’t thrilled with his role at times, creating some tension with Carr that the quarterback addressed in an offseason interview with The Athletic.

[RELATED: Derek Carr's aim for Raiders' final six games: Mess up NFL draft order]

Crabtree was eventually cut just before free agency in what was essentially a straight swap for Jordy Nelson, albeit in separate transactions with similar costs.

Crabtree quickly signed with the Ravens, setting up what might be considered a revenge game Sunday in Baltimore.

There is one big problem with that narrative: Crabtree’s willingness to play along. He shot down having any extra motivation against his old team talking to Baltimore reporters on Wednesday.

“We’re on the end of the stretch right here, so every game counts for us,” Crabtree said. “The next game is the Raiders.”

Crabtree was asked if there was any special meaning playing the Silver and Black.

“Nope,” Crabtree said. “I just played football.”

Crabtree was never one to air dirty laundry in the press, but he might enjoy a big statistical day against his old squad.

Carr was complimentary of his former target, whom he routinely called quarterback friendly, despite some periods of friction between him and Crabtree.

[RELATED: Raiders head coach Jon Gruden is holding Derek Carr to high standards]

“I love Crab, oh my goodness. He helped me so much talking scheme, talking the mindset, the leadership, all of those things,” Carr said. “I remember standing around the corner in the hallway begging him not to leave. I promise I’ll throw you the ball, I said. He had two or three of his best, statistically, years of his career. That means a lot to me. I told him ‘I’ll throw it to you’ and knowing him, he probably wanted it more but that’s Crab.

“He’s one of the most competitive people I’ve ever been around. I think the world of him. I miss him, I do. I wish him the best. I always keep up on my phone making sure he’s doing well and all that. I really do wish the best for him and his family.”

Crabtree hasn’t reached pre-2017 heights in Baltimore, with 42 catches for 479 yards and just two touchdowns. He has only caught 53.8 percent of his targets, and hasn’t been the red-zone focus he was in Oakland, where he had 25 touchdowns in three seasons.

“We had great chemistry,” Carr said. “We had good moments together on those red zone plays. We had hand signals. Just me looking at him; we were on a good page. That’s something you try to do with all your guys. We played for years together, so it doesn’t just come overnight. I think that every quarterback that has played with him will definitely say he has some of the best hands and is one of the most competitive and reliable people. I have nothing but good things to say.”

Raiders draft pick Josh Jacobs pleased with 'Madden 20' rookie rating

Raiders draft pick Josh Jacobs pleased with 'Madden 20' rookie rating

It's weird to picture yourself in a video game, right? People actually take a controller and play ... well, they play you.

When it comes to playing Madden NFL, each rookie is rated every year. Baker Mayfield reacted to his ratings last season and this time around, Raiders' newly-drafted running back Josh Jacobs figured out his rating for "Madden NFL 20" -- and he appeared to be pleased with it:

The Raiders quoted his tweet saying the number is "only gonna go up," in support of Jacobs.

The 21-year-old said there was only one rookie he spoke to who had a higher rating. If you're wondering if it was Kyler Murray, he already told one Twitter commenter that it wasn't the No. 1 overall pick he was referring to. Still, a 74 rating isn't bad at all, so it's easy to see why he's happy to share the number that was granted to him.

Madden ratings for a running back are determined by acceleration, agility, and speed. They also update the determinants each season -- but the EA website does say in an article this specific position is a unique one.

"[It's unique] in the sense that rookie rushers often make immediate impacts on the field, while other positions tend to have a bit of transitional period."

[RELATED: Analyst says Jacobs in best position to succeed]

And how does EA come up with the ratings? Well, it's quite simple, really.

"It's combine numbers and then some formulas we've created spits a lot of those numbers they turn there into ratings, we also have a modifier available for guys who show something different on-field compared to their numbers," Dustin Smith, assistant producer for EA Madden NFL told NBC Sports California.

The site also references the possibilities of improvements -- so the Raiders may have a point. 

"Madden 20" will be released on August 2, but you can, of course, preorder it. 

Raiders OTA primer: Five questions entering important offseason phase

Raiders OTA primer: Five questions entering important offseason phase

The Raiders are progressing right through the offseason program, which starts its third and final phase on Tuesday when organized team activities formally begin. The first phase is all about conditioning and meetings. The second allows on-field workouts, without helmets or offense vs. defense work.

They can put it all together over the next four weeks. Well, almost. Players can put helmets on at least, but there’s no live contact over the course of 10 OTA practices and a mandatory minicamp in mid-June.

Units can go against each other these days, a vital part of learning/mastering Raiders schemes. And the competition for roster spots formally starts Monday. Nothing will be decided for months, but players can make an early impression on an organization looking for improved production in most spots. The 2019 Raiders really start coming together now.

Here are some key questions to keep an eye on throughout OTAs and minicamp:

Will veteran LBs flash old form?

Vontaze Burfict and Brandon Marshall know how to run a defensive front seven. Both guys have done so for the Bengals and Broncos, respectively, for several years. Injuries (and maybe age) have pushed them out of old markets and toward the Silver and Black, where they’re looking to restart careers representing new colors.

Recent past creates question marks about whether they can find old form and be three-down mainstays for a Raiders defense needing stability inside. Burfict’s intimate knowledge of Paul Guenther’s scheme while working with him Cincinnati should help tremendously. So should Burfict’s aggressive play inside.

Marshall’s a cerebral sort and a sure tackler capable of playing any linebacker spot.

Those guys could help a great deal. Keyword: could. Don’t forget the optimism surrounding Derrick Johnson last offseason, when spring promises of upgraded play were never met.

Marshall and Burfict will start fitting into this Raiders' defense during OTAs, and we’ll see how much spring remains in veteran steps. Both guys are working on one-year contracts but hope to remain for a longer term. They’ll have to prove themselves deserving in 2019 to stick around.

How will TE shakeup shake out?

The Raiders have mixed up their tight end position group this offseason, letting Jared Cook walk in free agency before cutting Lee Smith recently.

Darren Waller’s set for a big receiving role that he’ll have to earn in OTAs and training camp. He has all the speed and athleticism needed for success, but he must be reliable in the pattern to get targets in the passing game.

Fourth-round pick Foster Moreau will compete for a role, alongside Luke Willson and Derek Carrier. The group will look different, and those guys must step up and fill an important blocking role in the run game, especially. Competition for snaps should be fierce in that group. OTAs will give some a leg up heading into training camp.

Chemistry class in session?

Quarterback Derek Carr worked extensively with new receivers Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams at universities and even public parks trying to establish an early rapport with his new receivers. The offseason program has afforded regular opportunities to do so with them and other newbies Ryan Grant and J.J. Nelson and even fifth-round draft pick Hunter Renfrow.

Thus far, they’ve only worked against air. Adding coverage and defensive resistance will be a solid litmus test to see if the timing is in fact right. There’s no real worry even if not, considering how much time remains to get it right.

Will three first-rounders make a good OTA impression?

The Raiders used three first-round picks on guys who need pads to truly be evaluated. That’s especially true for defensive lineman Clelin Ferrell (No. 4 overall) and running back Josh Jacobs (No. 24), who won’t really be able to thump until training camp.

Athleticism and burst and elusiveness could be seen clearly in OTAs, where these guys could jump right into top units. Safety Johnathan Abram will be asked to cover and do a bit of everything, but he might be brought along initially behind Karl Joseph at strong safety. That doesn’t mean the hierarchy will remain, but it could ease Abram’s initial transition.

The Raiders are counting on all three first-rounders to make an immediate impact, and they’d like to hit the ground running and show positive flashes while learning the scheme.

[RELATED: AB posts cryptic tweet after Big Ben apology]

Who jumps out in cornerback rotation?

Gareon Conley seems set to start at one outside cornerback spot. Daryl Worley’s favored to start on the opposite end, with safety Lamarcus Joyner sliding into the slot when required. Veteran Nevin Lawson will have something to say about that. And the Raiders didn’t draft Trayon Mullen at No. 40 overall to sit around and play fourth fiddle.

Expect some competition from that position group during OTAs and beyond, as we find out who can excel playing the physical coverage style Guenther requires. Rashaan Melvin never figured it out, and had a rough 2018. There’s enough talent here that a slow start could hurt fighting for regular-season snaps, as we see how a premium position group fares against a loaded receiver corps that will start testing coverage ability immediately.